Wednesday, September 24, 2014



Status:  Just bought new writing music, so I’m good to go. 

Confession time.  We don’t actually pay for internet—pretty soon after we moved into our house, roughly four years back, we discovered we didn’t need to.  You see, the gas station across the road has a little sandwich/coffee shop that offers its customers free Wi-Fi.  Turns out the owner doesn’t mind if we piggy-back.  Granted, to get really good signal, I have to sit in the big picture window, and I probably look like a creep to all the passersby.  But after this long, I’m used to it.  Anyway, who am I to turn down free stuff? 

Of course, it isn’t always convenient.  Sometimes the router cuts out—and we can’t very well complain since we’re mooching.  Often bad weather interferes.  And remember Murphy’s law.  When I want to mindlessly check Facebook or waste time browsing blogs and stalking musicians, I many not have full bars, but the connection is fast.  Life is good then—nothing to obstruct or defy me.  But if I really need to get back to someone or deal with pressing matters or upload a post to my blog, that’s when the internet decides to go on vacation.  I especially love it when every page works except the one I need. 

But because I know the internet isn’t always going to be there, I’ve learned to enjoy it more when it is.  Seriously, there’s so much open to me.  I might start researching for a book and get distracted by one link which leads to another and then another, and pretty soon I know nothing about medieval history but everything about John Wayne and the history of the toothpick and how to make seedless strawberry jam.  There’s so much knowledge waiting to be learned, and I want to learn it.  Sometimes I wish I could access the internet through a neural interface so I could just sit back and soak up the information.  (Then again, what if someone hacked my brain?)  I can’t use Spotify all the time, so it isn’t commonplace yet.  Every time I get on, I’m excited to listen to something new, something I don’t already have in my vast music library.  The world wide web becomes a treat and not a nuisance. 

When I sit down to write, I don’t have to use Freedom—my room doesn’t have signal.  I still have distractions though.  I sit in my comfy armchair in my bedroom, surrounded by my bookshelves, and they all whisper their stories to me.  They beg to be admired and read and marveled over.  My Star Treks and my Doctor Whos wait patiently, telling me over and over ,in that matter of fact way, that I know I should be watching them instead of writing.  Good for inspiration? I reason with myself as I reach for the DVD, but then I put it back because I have other priorities.  For all the procrastinating I do, though, it’s amazing what I can get done.  (And no, I’m not on hallucinogens—I was speaking metaphorically.) 

Anyway, I’m tired—maybe that’s why I don’t seem to be making any sense.  The tea was weak today, and it tasted like old dead things.  The laptop is super warm and it’s putting me to sleep.  Plus, I have at least twenty more pages to edit in my book.  And actually, the work is weighing on me a bit more than it usually does.  When I’m tired—that’s when it gets to me.  For a year now I’ve spent every spare moment working on this novel, writing and rewriting and polishing meticulously, and come November I’ll be querying agents.  Time is running out.  I want to savor all these moments of guilt-free procrastination while I can. 

Not that I’m trying to complain.  In fact, if it weren’t for these times when I’m so tired and so muddled I can’t even think straight, I would never appreciate the moments of clarity when my fingers fly over the keys like they’re the ones creating not me.  These are the times that make the others worthwhile.  So I’ll put on my new writing music, edit ten more pages, and head outside in the fresh air to catch my breath and my perspective before I head back in for another ten pages.  And even if no one ever reads this book, when I’m finished, I will be grateful for every painful hour I slogged through when I could have been anywhere else doing anything else. 


So, I do what I said I would—I edit those ten pages, and I give myself the promised reward.  First off, you should know I’m not at my house using borrowed internet.  Right now, I’m staying with my aunt and uncle and cousins because they are awesome, and because why wouldn’t I?  Which means when I treat myself to a trip outdoors, I’m not merely wandering through a tick-infested wonderland of dead lupines and fallen tree limbs—I’m strolling through something very like a farm (minus the cows). 

As I step out onto the weathered wooden porch, I smell the chilly wind and rub my arms for warmth.  Who needs sweaters anyway, when cold is just another sensation to experience and enjoy?  A little needle-strewn path leads under a stand of threadbare pines to a large wire enclosure I love dearly.  Chickens wait for me in a confused herd, trying to figure out if I have brought food or anything else of interest.  Perhaps I’ve come to steal their eggs.  Black and red and gold and white mix in an autumnal array of hen.  To my right, three little white goats peer at me eagerly from the next pen over, smiling in their little goat way, shaking their little goat horns at me.  I spend a while there, talking to them and feeding them leaves before I moved on.  I pass the old compost pile, neat and orderly and green, and I walk down the driveway, crossing at an angle, delighting in the feel of sunbaked rocks on bare feet.  Ahead, in a yard on the other side of the road, kids run around playing zombie wars, a very different pretend game than the ones I loved when I was that young. 

I swing back up the drive and study the waving corn stalks, empty now, and dying.  Likewise the tomato plants, harvested to scarcity, with only a few green orbs to keep them company and a half-ripe one besides.  Little multi-colored squash wait on the white-green grass. 

I circle around behind the house, past the burn pit and the four-wheeler trails to the massive sunflowers leaning against the wall.  Entranced, I step closer to view the thick stalks and the hairy golden heads towering above my own, but the drowsy bumblebees remind me it is best to keep my distance.  So I move on, meandering past sandy ant hills around the L of the building to the side where white dirt wedges between my toes and thistles prick at my calluses.  Unable to resist, I return to visit the chickens one last time, and the goats come galloping to meet me, faces eager and ears flopping.  A hen burrows in the earth, flicking it up onto her wings.  Near my foot, a single squash peel lies forgotten amongst the reddish pine-needles.  Sucking in a deep breath of autumn air, I climb the solid, wooden steps and reenter the building, saving the happiness of this fall memory to share with you. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Late Summer


I am at the kitchen sink, scrubbing dishes, staring out the window at the rock doves and the lone chickadee pecking at the bird seed strewn across the gravel drive.  As I stand transfixed, mounds of suds pile high above the scalding water, popping and melting, speared by tendrils of steam.  On the high grassy bank behind our house, the ugly dead stalks of this summer’s lupines slouch like broken spines into the long wavy grass and the spent lilies.  Fallen apples litter the walk up the hill to the yard where the freshly mown lawn conceals vast armies of ticks (I discovered that the hard way when dozens tried to make friends with me).  The old oak stands twisted and sorry, with rusty chains hanging from the remnants of branches, creaking and squeaking whenever the wind blows.  And scattered about round the base are bits and fragments of board, the derelict treehouse, shattered on the earth and shaded by the crackly dry leaves of the massive, rotten limb that fell one windless day. 

Hazy shadows catch the waning sunlight and spin realms of gold to tinge the broken horizon with strange and breath-taking beauty.  What a mastery of colors—the complexion of the sky in late summer.  The warm dishwater on my hands is cozy against the backdrop of chill and impending winter.  Of all seasons, this one is most glorious. 

I turn my head toward the big picture window behind me with its fish-bowl view of the main thoroughfare.  Cars zip past the gas station across from our house, honking their greetings to the world.  As the haunting wail of a siren ricochets through the tight little valley, the river picks up the sad song and carries the melody.  Long after the ambulance is past, the last few notes linger in the air.  Faithful J. cleans up dark, oily stains on the frost-buckled pavement as old fishermen perform their daily ritual, topping off their tanks and buying a paper.  Dogs bark impatiently from driver’s seat windows as owners converse beneath hesitant streetlights.  So much input, so much wonder in this one place.  So many people, so many histories, so many births and deaths and one-true-loves.  This evening has me dreaming in poetry. 

I move back to the sink and my view of the lawn and the treehouse.  The piled dishes wait patiently.  Of course, I could plow through them faster if I wanted to, but each rhythmic scrubbing motion is another chord in the strain of this evening.  Besides, I’m being silly, like I always am when I’m alone in the house.  I have the Civil Wars playing, and I’m singing my heart out, harmonizing with the CD, filling in the gaps between lyrics with my own renditioning.  I may sound terrible—I don’t care.  It’s fun.  After all, you don’t own an album until you make it personal, until you feel each note in your very bones.  So I sing with Joy Williams and John Paul White about wanting to leave, and burning walls, and loving an outlaw.  I sing about faithless Henry and how years burn.  And I cry when I sing Sacred Heart. 

I travel the world in this twilight of solitude.  I daydream; I go starry-eyed.  I see the wooden chairs at the table, and I inwardly roam through great forests of spruce and pine, or vast jungles full of draping vines and lurking monsters.  I think again of Tarzan.  And all the while my mind moves on a thousand other tracks as well.  What would it be like if I were the only person left on earth, if this whole realm was my dominion and mine alone?  Growing up, I loved Z for Zachariah and The Time Machine and the countless stories of smallness and lonesomeness and genius.  Wouldn’t it be great, I think to myself, wouldn’t it be fun if I bought a whole heap of canned foods and hid out in the forest somewhere for a year, subsisting only on my meager stock of provisions?  Talk about a weight loss program.  But just imagine the adventure.  On the other hand, I could simply read about it in a book while I sip my coffee or eat my ice cream or brew my own root beer.  Now there’s a thought. 

I could sail on the high seas and fight pirates, circumnavigating the world accompanied only by an oversized rat and a sickly pelican with a box of crackers to share between us.  Maybe a vacation home in Hawaii would be an excellent spot, preferably overlooking a live volcano.  The prairie calls to me, and the desert.  Wide open skies and dry ground and red rocks, they beckon my soul.  I am entranced.  I could go back to Africa and live there again.  Or I could just write about it, safe in my cozy, little Alpine cottage, all scented with wood fires and the mingled aromas of baking bread and rosemary chicken.  My books would be there too, to line the walls and keep me company when loneliness is dreadful instead of wonderful. 

Or you know what, I’ve always wanted to be a spy.  It’s not too late now to join the CIA, is it?  Really, though, I think I’d much rather sit back and read The Gallagher Girls.  Or maybe I could be an astronaut.  But then there’s always Star Trek. 

I stare out the window, only to see my face reflected back at me.  At some point the light behind me brightened while the world before went dark.  Glaring bulbs obscure the nighttime splendor and the now empty driveway.  A shade would be nice, something to block out the lonely void, but the window over the kitchen is bare.  The house is smaller now, with inkiness cocooning it.  Oh, the unforgiveable speed of time. 

I finish with the dishes, dry my hands, and spread a towel over them to keep the dust at bay.  Shivering, I close the creamy curtain over the picture window and block out the gas station.  On the island sits a bowl of home-harvested tomatoes, and I pick through them, selecting the ripest.  I even grab a green one, because I’ve never tried them green before, and newness is good.  Beside the chimney, the clock ticks mournfully as I fry the tomatoes and fill the air with garlic and thyme and rosemary.  I sprinkle pepper and sneeze just for the fun of it.  I am in love with life. 

Sizzling contentedly, the tomatoes fry down into a goop, and still I sing.  You’d think my voice would be gone by now, but the music carries it past all realms of reason and endurance into forever.  Defying the heat and the oil, the green slices of unripe fruit (or is it a vegetable) refuse to soften, and the sides begin to burn and brown.  At last I turn off the burner and stow the cooking away for later when my family is back and ready to eat.  And I sit down at the kitchen table to write, but as my pen rises poised above the paper, headlights crawl up the steep driveway and the sound of a revving engine fills the tiny room.  They are home.  Time for reality.  I slip away my notebook and store these beautiful moments for later, later when the world is small and lonely and ugly, later when I need to remember how much in love I was today. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Out of Coffee, Out of Mind


Originally my blog had a very lame name:  Confessions of a Caffeine Addict.  I mean, I basically took two clichés, fused them together, and created something as worn out as the Frozen theme song.  And while I knew it was awful when I chose it, I kept it for two reasons.  A) I couldn’t think of anything better, and I couldn’t very well let my blog go nameless, now could I?  B) I have a pen pal, a friend, who writes like I do—and we usually dedicate at least a paragraph of every single letter to the virtues of coffee.  It’s something familiar, a shared interest—a shared addiction.  I liked that so much, I wanted my blog to feel just as familiar—like an oft-frequented café.  But Confessions of a Caffeine Addict just wasn’t the right title. 

Speaking of coffee, though, several days ago I thought of the perfect horror movie—made from the stuff of nightmares.  What if the world’s supply of caffeine ran out—what if it just ended?  Imagine a post-apocalyptic landscape of some sort.  Supplies are scant.  Once more chocolate is reserved solely for the military and the rich.  Meat and milk are scarce.  The fish are dead.  Low-grade vegetables are perhaps the only steady source of food, but winter is coming, and a hundred million mouths—the remnants of humanity—still need to be fed. 

In this metaphorical planetary darkness, the equally metaphorical light of a tiny South American village shines but dimly.  Ailing from the almost incessant nuclear bombs and biological warfare, the last coffee plants stand stooped over the dry earth, their leaves rustling mournfully in the wind as if they are keenly aware that they are the last of their kind.  Travel is difficult—almost impossible—but somehow crowds stream in with pounding headaches and ready mugs to stand peering through the barred windows of the last café on earth as cultivated strains of macchiato and espresso sift through the glassless apertures into the dusty red streets.   Noses press to the openings in eager anticipation as a lone server hurries about his counters, boiling water and brewing the human elixir as he has done for years.  Behind the shop, in a tiny, rundown building, a weary old woman inventories the dwindling supply of beans.  Only she and her husband know that the trees are almost dead.  This will be their last yield. 

After these barrels are gone, there will be nothing—nothing to sharpen minds or stave off the bitter cold when mere warmth is not enough.  The disaster of this goes beyond pounding headaches.  Coffee has become more than a simple love, more than a bothersome addiction.  It has become the living, breathing soul of civilization.  No street corner is without its coffee shop, no citizen without a cup in hand.  Raised on coffee since infancy, the human mind no longer remembers what it is without the steady, constant flow of caffeine.  And once the coffee is gone, there will be no more.  The woman knows this as she calculates the remaining doses in her head—likewise the man in the shop, as with every portion he serves, he assists in the end of the world. 

Okay, so that’s totally fictionalized—hardly something that would ever happen.  But the thought still makes me shiver and cling more tightly to my mug.  I owe much to coffee.   

Anyone who has ever participated in NaNoWriMo will understand the fear and anticipation that come with embarking on this grand adventure—this fearsome goal of writing 50,000 words in a month.   Before 2013, I had never participated, though I had reached similar word count goals in a similar amount of time.  But despite my lifelong obsession with writing, leading up to November, I felt nothing—no anticipation, no excitement, no nothing.  I had lovelessly fiddled with an array of busted ideas, but frankly, I had been going through a period of apathy, and all through the preceding summer I had begun to quietly question my identity as a writer.  I had lost sight of who I was.  Life had thrown one too many punches at me, and I was ready to throw in the towel.  But there was that incessant voice in the back of my head nagging me to write even when I didn’t care.  I knew that if I made the wrong decision at this turning point, I would probably regret it for the rest of my life.  Or something melodramatic like that. 

What helped me in the end was a cup of coffee, about three days before November 1st.  Not just any cup of coffee, though.  Usually I drink mine black—I like the flavor.  But when the limited edition holiday creamers roll around every autumn, they find my cup a ready and welcoming place.  And that fall, when I made my first annual mug of pumpkin spice, that familiar smell and that marvelous taste brought me back to another time and place—a better place.  A writing place. 

The last time I’d had pumpkin spice coffee was in 2012 when I was hard at work on DSS—the longest project of mine up to date—when my love for writing had not yet cooled.  And always that coffee had been my call to write, my constant companion, sitting patiently beside Adele the laptop as I tapped away at the keys.  Come 2013, I heard that call again and was compelled to answer. 

So coffee didn’t save me—nothing as dramatic as that.  But it was enough to broaden my focus and remind me of a larger world beyond the scope of my myopic understanding.  It didn’t heal any hurts or fix any problems.  But like a faithful friend, it handed me a key to the good old times that I had despaired of ever unlocking.  And like flypaper, every time I sit with my customary mug, it traps a dozen more good memories. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tarzan of the Apes

Scottie’s is a quaint little bookstore in Ellsworth, Maine that I visit maybe once or twice a year.  Every time I go, the books are piled higher and the Scotty dog is older—but that papery smell still fills the air, just like always.  I love the familiar surroundings, the high shelves and the brimming cardboard boxes, the ratty paperbacks and the priceless hardcovers.  Recently I was wandering through the crowded stacks, thumbing through old and new volumes alike—worn out Orson Scott Cards and shiny Isaac Asimovs.  Tolkein was in there somewhere, tucked in facing the tacky looking Star Trek and Star Wars collection that I always drool over but rarely buy.  Still hoping to dig up a Ray Bradbury, I moved to the classics section deep in the back corner, a veritable treasure trove if you care to dig.  And that’s when I found it.  Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. 

My cousin loves Tarzan—the books, the soundtrack, the movie.  Whenever I visit her house, I see her copies sitting in a neat little row on her shelf, and I am intrigued.  I watched the Disney version when I was much younger, and bits and bobs still float around in my memory, random snatches of animation that stuck to my grey matter.  Not much—just enough to know that I liked it, but not enough to know why.  Truth be told, when my cousin recommended the books to me, while her enthusiasm piqued my interest, the obnoxiously melodramatic covers weren’t very promising.  This copy, though—this copy was beautiful.  The peaceful blue-green jungle was a scene from another world; a strange, magical place that I desperately wanted to visit.  And having forgotten so much of the story, I was curious to remember.  So, after all these years, I finally got around to reading it. 

At the end, as I closed the book and studied the write-up to see if it gave an accurate representation, I wondered why I hadn’t remembered that Tarzan was a tragedy. 

As a kid, when I read, I read because I loved to explore, because a mere staycation didn’t cut it for me, because everyday life can be boring for a mind that’s always learning and growing and developing.  I didn’t much care what happened, so long as it was interesting.  Nothing wrong with that, of course.  But now…  Now I read to escape, to stretch, to make sense of the world.  I live in a box—a gilded cage—and I need air sometimes.  I need to live somewhere else and be someone else when this frame becomes too unbearable. 

And Tarzan—Tarzan is beautiful.  He is free, swinging through the treetops with the fresh air and the sunlight surrounding him.  He is basic humanity, without the trappings of taxes and rent and work.  He is an untamed spirit, and I rooted for him because he is the wild, adventurous creature that I wish I was. 

Then Jane Porter comes along and ruins everything.  At first I liked her because Tarzan liked her.  But Tarzan doesn’t get the girl in the end.  He doesn’t get anything.  Instead, he abandons his old life and trades it for tiresome civilization in hopes of marrying Jane.  And I hated—how I hated to see him trapped in a suit, speaking French and eating with silverware like a normal man when he’s anything but a normal man.  He’s Tarzan.  He is special.  He is so much better—so much more—than any other man, and he deserves more than this boring fate.  How awful that he trades all that makes him marvelous for a wishy-washy girl who leads him on and then foolishly rejects him.  Where is the justice in that?  It’s as tragic as Peter Pan growing up, or Cinderella and Prince Charming getting a divorce, or Spirit becoming a tame packhorse.  It simply won’t do.  But here’s the thing—and this is why it hurt the most, this is what I didn’t get before that I do now.  Eventually, we do have to face reality.  We all have to face reality, even when we don’t like it.  Edgar Rice Burroughs told the truth.  Love doesn’t always fix things, time doesn’t always heal, and everyone gets old and tired someday.  As much as I wanted to see Tarzan free, as much as I wanted him to remain forever untainted by what taints me, his sacrifice made him twice as beautiful.  Like Pinocchio, his experiences turned him into a real boy, and that was priceless. 

So I look forward to the twenty-two sequels and all they hold in store.